ONS Death Data update and Disparity with PHE –

August 11, 2020

Jason Oke, Carl Heneghan

The latest release from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending 31st of July, 2020 (Week 31) shows that the number of deaths in which “novel coronavirus (COVID-19)”, was mentioned on the death certificate continues to decline in England.

In week 31 there were 8,946 deaths registered – 90 fewer than the five-year average – this is the seventh consecutive week that deaths have been below average. In the last seven weeks, there have been 1,503 fewer deaths than expected (62,208 versus 64,311 expected).

In 2020 there have been 380,806 registered deaths; 52,927 more than the five year average of 327,169). For an understanding of excess deaths see Thoughts on Estimating Excess Mortality from COVID-19.

The figure shows there are currently fewer than 20 deaths a day registered with COVID on the death certificate and the numbers are trending down.

The disparity between the numbers according to the ONS criteria and those reported by Public Health England is more marked than before. PHE deaths are currently between 2 and 3 times higher than ONS.

In our post yesterday on the UK’s outlier status we stated that we are expecting the UK PHE numbers to be revised imminently. We consider the widening difference between the ONS and the PHE data shows further why this is a necessary step.


Jason Oke is a Senior Statistician at the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences and Module Coordinator for Statistical Computing with R and Stata (EBHC Med Stats), and Introduction to Statistics for Health Care Research (EBHC), as part of the Evidence-Based Health Care Programme.

Carl Heneghan is Professor of Evidence-Based Medicine and Director of Studies for the Evidence-Based Health Care Programmes (Full bio and disclosure statement here)

Disclaimer the article has not been peer-reviewed; it should not replace individual clinical judgement, and the sources cited should be checked. The views expressed in this commentary represent the views of the authors and not necessarily those of the host institution, the NHS, the NIHR, or the Department of Health and Social Care.